Genital mucosal barriers against HIV infection

Environmental factors including hormonal contraceptive use, genital infections and seminal fluid itself affect the susceptibility to HIV infection as demonstrated in epidemiological and experimental studies. The molecular mechanisms behind these findings are however poorly defined. Our group aims to study how the human female genital tract is affected by these factors by assessing tissue samples and cervicovaginal secretions from large cohorts of Swedish and Kenyan women who are sexually exposed to HIV infection. Genital samples are defined by expression of epithelial junction proteins, distribution and density of HIV target cell receptors, presence and function of tissue-resident memory T cells as well as innate immune proteins by using imaging, tissue explants models and proteomics. By exploring some of the underlying mechanisms for a dysfunctional mucosal barrier we hope to contribute to the development of topical prophylactic compounds and to the prescription of optimal contraceptive methods to women.